Government victory in Maastricht vote: Lib-Dem support ensures all-night debate

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Indy Politics
THE GOVERNMENT won a crucial vote last night with Liberal Democrat support to speed up progress on the Bill to ratify the Maastricht treaty.

Tory MPs cheered and waved their order papers as a whip announced that the Government had won by 296 votes to 279 - a majority of 17 - to allow the debate to continue through the night. The Government had called in the walking wounded - David Atkinson, the Tory MP for Bournemouth, hobbled through the lobby in a light blue dressing gown and slippers. Had the Government lost, it would have been a blow to morale and ministers would have been accused of losing control of the Bill.

Seventeen Liberal Democrats voted with the Government, ensuring the victory, in spite of a rebellion by a hard core of 26 Tory MPs.

The Liberal Democrats decided, in principle, to support late-night sittings to enable speedier progress with the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. It was a unanimous decision at a meeting of 17 of the party's 20 MPs. Nick Harvey, North Devon, an opponent of the Bill, was not present.

Earlier, about 40 Conservative MPs rebelled in a Commons division on the Maastricht legislation, disproving Government confidence that the rebels were being worn down by ministerial charm. The Government carried a technical vote, allowing progress to be made, by 278 votes to 221, a majority of 57 - but with the support of a dozen Liberal Democrats, five other minority party MPs, and a significant degree of Labour absence. Only four Tory MPs with a record of revolt voted with the Government. They were: Michael Clarke, Rochford; Andrew Hunter, Basingstoke; George Walden, Buckingham; and John Whittingdale, Colchester South and Maldon.

The Liberal Democrats have supported the Government on each of the three occasions when it has moved the technical motion necessary to allow debate to continue after 10pm but last night's decision put that support on a formal footing.

Charles Kennedy, President of the Liberal Democrats, said that there had been no deal with the Government and the party would not support sitting so late that the next day's business was at risk, particularly on a Friday. He also confirmed that the party would still be supporting deletion of the Social Chapter opt-out.

With the Commons in committee on the Bill for the 17th day, Tory and Labour backbench opposition focused on treaty plans for economic and monetary union, with a European Central Bank and a single currency.

Sir Peter Tapsell, Conservative MP for East Lindsey, said that the central bank would have the sole power to print money and control the currency that the British people used. It would effectively become 'the most powerful economic, and, therefore, political institution in the Community'.

The rebels who voted with Labour against the motion to continue last night's debate 'until any hour' were:

John Biffen (Shropshire N), Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston), Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton SW), John Butcher (Coventry SW), John Carlisle (Luton N), William Cash (Stafford), James Cran (Beverley), Sir George Gardiner (Reigate), Christopher Gill (Ludlow), Theresa Gorman (Billericay), Toby Jessel (Twickenham), Roger Knapman (Stroud), Sir Ivan Lawrence (Burton), Michael Lord (Suffolk Central), Barry Legg (Milton Keynes SW), Tony Marlow (Northampton N), Richard Shepherd (Aldridge Brownhills), Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire N), Michael Spicer (Worcestershire S), Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan), Sir Peter Tapsell (Lindsey E), Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend E), Bill Walker (Tayside N), John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood), Ann Winterton (Congleton) and Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield).

A Gallup survey in today's Daily Telegraph says Norman Lamont is the most unpopular Chancellor since the Second World War; only 18 per cent of voters say he is doing a good job, with 70 per cent thinking the opposite, the lowest rating for a Chancellor since this question was first asked in 1949.